Boris Johnson’s statement on pulling out of the Tory leadership race: what he said and what he meant

Boris Johnson hit the phones over the weekend after cutting his Caribbean holiday shortBoris Johnson hit the phones over the weekend after cutting his Caribbean holiday short
Boris Johnson hit the phones over the weekend after cutting his Caribbean holiday short | Lee Anderson
The former Prime Minister announced he was dropping out of the contest to succeed Liz Truss - but his statement was loaded with subtext

It came after his return from a holiday in the Caribbean (while parliament was sitting) and a weekend on the phones to his former allies to drum up support. He claimed to have reached the threshold of 100 supportive MPs needed to reach the next stage, but added that his failure to strike a deal with rivals Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt had led him to believe that he could not unite the party.

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As ever with Johnson, the statement was loaded with barely concealed subtext and pointed messages for his leadership rivals and the Conservatives at large. Here we take a look at what he said - and consider what he probably meant.

What he said: “In the last few days I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who suggested that I should once again contest the Conservative Party leadership, both among the public and among friends and colleagues in Parliament.”

What he meant: I am still Boris. I am still hugely popular and charismatic, and you better believe it (even if I am dropping out).

What he said: “I have been attracted because I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago – and I believe I am therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now.”

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What he meant: I am ‘uniquely placed’ - ergo, I am the only one who can avert an election where the Tories will be humiliated by a resurgent Labour. Therefore Sunak and Mordaunt have no hopes of holding the party together. Good luck.

What he said: “A general election would be a further disastrous distraction just when the Government must focus on the economic pressures faced by families across the country.”

What he meant: Even though I personally would lead the Tories to victory through sheer force of personality alone, an election would spell electoral wipeout for whoever does get the job I covet. Again, good luck.

What he said: “I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 – and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.”

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What he meant: While I *obviously* did get 102 backers (even if they didn’t go public), I find it unfair that the Conservative Party introduced a ‘very high’ 100 MP threshold into the contest. This was clearly personal. They’ve engineered it against me. It’s rigged.

What he said: “There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members – and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.”

What he meant: I would have trounced Rishi or Penny if it had gone to the party faithful. I would just have to mess up my blonde mop and quote ancient philosophers and they’d be eating out of the palm of my hand again.

What he said: “But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can’t govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.”

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What he meant: I’ve discovered that perhaps I do not carry the overwhelming support of the party that I’d imagined while lying on a Caribbean beach last week.

What he said: “And though I have reached out to both Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) – because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest – we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.”

What he meant: Rishi and Penny are such minor figures that I have to put their surnames in brackets so you know who I’m talking about. I’m also putting it on record that they would not strike a deal to let me back into Downing Street, so that Tory MPs know who to be upset at when this all goes wrong.

What he said: “Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.”

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What he meant: I guess I should probably say something graceful. Reluctantly.

What he said: “I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time.”

What he meant: This is simply not the right time, but I’ll be waiting in the wings whenever Rishi puts a foot wrong. I also still have much to offer, if you’re interested in booking me for a lucrative speaking event.

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